Not For Nuthin’, but Maybe the Conventional Wisdom About Engagement Ain't So Wise

Here’s the opening paragraph of a March 5th article appearing on Forbes.come:

Another year, another employee engagement poll by Gallup, another round of teeth gnashing.  Despite small gains in 2014, a great majority of employees are still not engaged.  On average, only 31.5% of your employees are engaged, 51% of them are not engaged, and 17.5% are creating real trouble by being actively disengaged.

And here’s a quote that appeared on, a publication of the Association for Talent Development:

According to a Towers Watson survey, nearly two-thirds of U.S. employees are not fully engaged in their work.  The same percentage of the workforce was as disengaged in 2000 as it is today, and that trend has been consistent throughout the past decade.

The headline on that article is telling:  “Employee Engagement: Epic Failure?”  So the implication would seem to be that since the billions of dollars that have been invested in employee engagement programs over the past decade or two have not delivered the ROI that was anticipated, it must be Employee Engagement’s fault.

This reminds me of what a business colleague would say to me when we would occasionally cross communications wires:  “Apparently you didn’t correctly hear what I said.”

He was being ironic, but I don’t think that those articles are.  That in itself is ironic since as business people we like to say that we need to be driven by “facts and data.”

But aren’t the percentages quoted in those articles facts?  And don’t all of the failed—or at least disappointing—engagement programs littering the business world’s past constitute important data points?

Maybe things would go better if we considered the possibility that the way we’re going at engagement might be somewhat short of optimal instead of scolding engagement for insufficient participation in our pipe dreams.